Hands

24 Nov

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It is not often that a complete stranger manages to capture the essence of what I am about. But in this study of my hands carving a moon into a sweet chestnut post, Catherine Burgess has achieved it.

My right hand is applying some force to the back of the chisel as I pare away the edge of the design, whilst my left hand directs the chisel point and controls the force I am applying.

Catherine approached me in her final year as a Photography student for her thesis ‘Waking Hands’ a study of makers and artists at work in Sheffield.

She approached my practice with stealth and great sensitivity. At no point did she hinder my work, she put me at my ease as would a mote of silvery dust in a moonbeam. I have seen some of her other studies of artists’ hands at work in Exchange Place Studios where my workshop is and have been amazed at the subtlety of expression in each: jewellers, smiths, potters all shown in rich activity.

I held my mother’s hand through the night as she lay drifting in and out of consciousness, moving steadily on towards her own end. Mam has big hands tempered by a lifetime of hard work, as a child chopping wood and digging graves as a captive in a Japanese POW camp in Sumatra, as a young woman tending the rich and famous as an air stewardess for KLM, and through most of the rest of her life as a needlework teacher. The history of her life wrought in her old hands, still strong despite her wasted body.

Missing her right index finger (she stuck it in a mangle accidentally as a child) – she instinctively rubs where the missing digit was amputated entire by a skilful Dutch surgeon.

Holding her hand felt profoundly human and humane. We were able to transmit our love through her pain and suffering.

Catherine told me that her title had been inspired by a poem by D.H.Lawrence. The quote that applies most aptly to my mother is this:

“I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself. A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough without ever having felt sorry for itself”

I

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Percie, Hazel and their Aunty Clare (my wife)

I love wildness in living beings, fierce women and stealth. It is no dishonour to be stalked by a huntress, loved by a lioness and raised by a Sabre Tooth Tigress, it is the mark of a man.

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